One of my 1-on-1 clients asked me this the other day, and I thought it was about time I shared my thoughts with my readers.
I know there are loads of you out there, dreaming of starting a business, who desperately want the answer to be, ‘Yes, of course, go for it!’, but it’s time for a little truth talk.
I might not make friends with this one. Because I’m not gonna say what you want to hear.
I’m gonna be real with you.
But I’ll soften the blow by starting with some good news: every single entrepreneur started out with zero experience (including me!).
Every single entrepreneur began by asking this question, and finding themselves suuuuper frustrated by the answer.
“But I know exactly what I’m doing!”
“I deserve to be paid for my time!”
“If this were another job it wouldn’t even be a question!”
True, true, true.
Nobody’s questioning your worth or abilities!
But here’s my take on the question (and there are other opinions): you probably shouldn’t be charging until you have experience.
Why You Need Experience Before You Start Charging
That probably isn’t what you want to here. But the reason is also probably not what you think.
The real question is not whether you’re capable of doing your work well enough to charge peeps, but whether you’re confident enough in your abilities.
Having the confidence of knowing you’re able to truly help people and provide a valuable service comes from experience.
It comes from having clients you can look at and say, “Yes, I helped them! I’ve totally got this.”
When you start asking for money it’s uber important you believe in yourself. If you don’t, potential clients may pick up on it.
They might not hire you.
Even if they do, you’ll probably lowball your prices and end up working for peanuts.
You’ll be charging, but nothing like what you’re worth.
Whatever you’re putting out into the world, until you have the confidence that it’s genuinely beneficial, and truly helping people, you’re gonna struggle to land clients and charge what you’re worth.
It’s partly their perception of you and your lack of experience, but it’s mostly a mindset thing.
So, rather than spending the first few years in your biz working for peanuts, I have a better suggestion:
Hold off charging until you have enough experience to be confident in your own abilities, and demonstrate them to potential clients. Then, start charging a premium rate right away.
No peanuts for you.
What They Forgot To Tell You About Entrepreneurship
Taking a plunge and setting up a creative or coaching business is an amazing choice. Coaching is very powerful, rewarding and a great business choice. Creative entrepreneurship is similarly awesome. But there are a few things they don’t tell you when you’re first starting out.
It takes time and effort to build a biz and start earning enough money to support yourself.
If you approach it in the right way, there’s no need for it to take you an age, but it does take time. The initial period when you first start out can be frustrating - you so desperately want to get ‘there’, but you’re not there yet, and that can feel like failure.
It can also make you impatient, and lead to you skipping steps and trying to take shortcuts.
That will likely do nothing but make everything take even longer!
There are a couple of options:
Here’s the truth. Money is a resource.
When you’re starting a new venture money can be a valuable resource. Whether it’s from savings, another form of income, or a supportive family member or spouse, having funds available will take a huge amount of pressure off your new business.
You can advance waaaay faster when you’re able to invest in courses, coaching, and other support for your business.
Here are the four things I did that made all the difference when I was starting out as a coach:
I worked on my money mindset
I believed in what I was capable of achieving (both for myself and my clients)
I invested time in talking to people, connecting, and getting in front of my ideal clients
And I started doing the work.
What To Do With Existing Skills
When I switched career tracks it was a big change. I went from working as a lawyer, employed by a firm, to running my own business.
Change can be great, but it’s also a lot. And when you’re focussing on your new zone of genius you can go a bit overboard.
It’s easy to have an ‘all or nothing’ attitude, and ignore everything that came before.
You might not think it’s relevant.
And on the surface, your existing skills might not be directly relevant. But when you dig deeper you will find there are ways your existing experience can complement your new calling as a coach or creative entrepreneur.
Don’t discard everything that came before. Here are a few examples:
Social Media Skills
You don’t have ‘no experience’. Whatever came before your new business (personal or professional), it is experience. For example, if in your corporate job you managed your company’s social media accounts, and were able to build up a huge following of thousands from scratch, that’s a great skill! Put that to work in your new biz right away, and get out there on social media.
Better yet, can you leverage that skill (something demonstrable that you do have experience it) right away, and charge for that? It may not be what you want to do long-term, but if it brings in a little money, and overlaps with the audience you eventually want to work with, it might be a good fit.
If you want to work with entrepreneurs as a coach, the odds are they need help with their social media. That’s a good way to introduce yourself while you build their awareness of you and your experience of the new direction you’re taking.
If you spent time at university, writing and research are both existing skills you have. Beyond that, a lot of people acquire copywriting skills during the course of other roles without ever really noticing. If you prepared written reports on a regular basis, or managed the creation of content as part of your previous role, you may have spent a lot of time writing.
How can you put those writing chops to work? You could start a blog, and regularly write about the area you’re moving into. But think beyond that. What other forms of written content can you create? Can you get an article featured on a prestigious site or magazine in your niche?
If you’re really good at writing, you could hire out as a freelance writer to clients who overlap the niche you’re moving into.
Look for ways to combine your existing skills with your new biz vision, and create your own unique methods.
Acquire New Experience
If you’re serving other people it’s important to work on your own strengths. To do that, you need to capitalize on your existing strengths, skills, and knowledge, as much as possible.
Then you need to continue to acquire new experience.
This isn’t just true when you’re first starting out - running a successful business requires a long-term commitment to your own personal and professional growth.
If you want your business to go from strength to strength, you need to be the solid foundation of that success, constantly strengthening and growing yourself.
Passion Alone Isn’t Enough
You can absolutely make your passion your paycheck, but passion does not equal moolah.
Your dream only works if you do, and there’s more to building a successful business than simply being passionate about your zone of genius.
This is particularly true of creatives and coaches -- they can be incredibly talented in their craft, but lack the business acumen that would lead to financial success.
In order to make a business out of your passion, you need to combine it with other key things (marketing, branding etc.).
These are the things that make it WORK.
And you need to build all areas of your biz, not just the fun parts.
You might hate marketing, but you’re gonna struggle to land consistent business without it. If you hate technical stuff the thought of building a website probably fills you with terror, but you need one. Just like you need an email list, and fabulous content.
A lot of work goes into building a business. The good news is, most of the stuff that’s outside your passion, your zone of genius, can easily be outsourced.
Delegating is a perfectly viable option!
When To Start Charging
“The only source of knowledge is experience.”
Anyone who has ever made a name for themselves, in any field, started out without experience. The difference in coaching and creative entrepreneurship to other areas is that, in other areas, it’s reasonable to expect to be paid for your time, even if you’re brand new and you’ve never done the job before.
You learn on the job, and expect to be paid to do it, even if only a starting salary.
But certain areas require experience before they provide a paycheck. Think of all the unpaid internships people take on, in order to ensure they get into their top choice of university, or land their dream job.
Lack Of Experience And Impostor Syndrome
Confidence is soooo important when you’re coaching. If you’re a creative entrepreneur of any kind, having confidence in what you do and how you do it is hugely important.
The problem with starting to coach or sell a product or service when you don’t have any experience, is that you end up feeling like a fraud.
Even if clients believe you know what you’re doing, and happily pay you, impostor syndrome can kick in.
I see this with my coaching clients. Other people are happy to pay them, but deep down they know they haven’t had enough experience doing what they’re selling.
There’s a little voice inside them saying, “You should have more experience!”, and they don’t have a proper retort. ”
You’re teaching something you’ve yet to do yourself. That can feel quite icky.
Business coaching is the perfect example of this. It’s the go-to for so many new coaches once they get their first client. But when you’re just starting out in your own business, without a business background, you have no business experience.
If your business involves a consulting or teaching element, you should have at least done for yourself and a few clients what you purport to help your clients with.
And this isn’t just about education.
You could have formal training and qualifications. Or you could be self-taught, and everything you know comes from your fave business blogs and YouTube.
The bottom line is, at the beginning of your business, you’re better off having experience implementing what you’ve learned before you start charging.
Imagine a few of these scenarios:
Trying to teach people to paint, or draw, when you’re only just learning yourself.
Teaching people to blog when you don’t have a successful blog of your own.
Offering marketing services when your own marketing isn’t really working yet.
Selling an online programme to create your next bestseller when you’ve never written a book yourself.
You can’t have proven results until you’ve worked with people, tested out your theories, methods, and all that knowledge percolating in your head.
Real clients are your best credentials.
Rushing Into Coaching
Coaching is an amazing vocation, and incredibly rewarding, but it’s not always a good idea to dive right into it. There are so many other amazing things people need, and if you’ve taken the time to properly identify your ideal client, you should be able to generate some other ideas.
Why not start out doing something related to the coaching you eventually want to do?
Start building your client base and reputation, and gain that all-important confidence and experience.
This can give you a way to start generating some cash and charging for services straight away, without the stress of trying to coach clients when you’re still finding your feet.
There are loads of ways to do this. If you eventually want to coach people in an artistic field, or to create their own art-based business, why not start by selling some of your own artistic creations, or services relating to them?
Start by building your own art-based business.
If you want to coach people in blogging and content marketing, start by building your own amazing blog, and selling your services as a writer.
Look at all the wonderful experience you already have. What can you do really well, right now, that’s related to your ultimate business goal, but isn’t coaching?
Get Experience By Working For Free
Take a few months and set yourself a goal of working with at least ten clients. Come from a place of inspiration and reach out to people you’d be willing to work with for free.
Let them know that you’re gaining experience helping people in a particular way and that’s why you’re not charging.
Here’s the thing about working with people for free: it takes the pressure off you. It also opens up the dialogue between you and the person you’re serving for feedback throughout the process.
You can also ask them to ‘pay’ you in the form of a testimonial, and permission to use your work together as a case study.
They may not agree to the latter, but it’s always worth asking! Even if they’re not comfortable making your work with them public, the experience you gain will be worth it.
You’ll grow in confidence as you work with them. It will give you chance to test out your methods and find the best way of working.
How I Started Charging
As I was going through coach training, I was working with everyone who would let me to get experience, including my mom, my sister, my three closest friends, a legal secretary at my law firm, friends from high school, friends from college, friends from law school, and friends of friends.
I had 100+ coaching conversations with people I’d met online.
THEN I started charging.
Here’s what was awesome about that: I was able to immediately position myself as a high-end coach. I had premium prices from the get go because I felt confident enough to charge higher prices AND I had results and testimonials from the work I’d done for free.